How to Avoid Arguments & Power Struggles

Our partners at Role Models discuss five ways to avoid having arguments with your child, and tips to support healthy behaviours at home.

Spending extended amounts of time at home together as a family can result in some big emotions, power struggles, and sometimes arguments.

What is a Power Struggle?

A power struggle is when your child refuses to do something, and you continue to insist on your child doing it. It can be anything from doing homework, brushing teeth, picking up toys, or turning screen time off.

The ongoing back and forth can become a battle of wills, and the longer the argument carries on, the more difficult it can be to get your child to comply. One of the main issues with power struggles is that the more you argue to try to get your child to do something, the more tempers seem to flare. And when you are both angry and frustrated, you probably aren’t likely to accomplish anything. Often times, if a child is forced to do something they don’t want to do, they can focus their anger towards you, rather than learning a lesson.

While it’s natural for arguments and disagreements to happen from time to time, we look at how to try and stay calm, rather than lose your cool and be drawn into the struggle.

  1. Having a phrase or response to use when you find yourself being drawn into a struggle with your child can be very helpful. 'I love you too much to argue with you about this'allows you to reinforce your support whilst stepping away from the heat. 
  2. If your child is having an unreasonable meltdown or is battling against a decision you've made, try recognising their feelings rather than meeting them with 'because I said so'. If your child is desperate to stay up late, have chocolate for breakfast or is refusing to turn the iPad off, try saying 'I know you really want to X right now, it feels really mean that I'm saying no. I know it feels hard.' This type of response can often help soften the situation rather than exacerbate it; you still stick to our decision, but you recognise your child's feelings.
  3. When your child is experiencing a big emotion and is at the height of arguing back, the rational part of their brain will not be working. It's important to remember this and to know that trying to reason with them will often be unsuccessful. When your child is in this state, it’s also easy to get triggered as parents, which means that in turn, the rational and calm part of your brain is not working at capacity either. It's not always easy, but by pausing so you respond rather than react, you can try and avoid that power struggle. 
  4. Being aware of the specific behaviours your child exhibits which trigger a certain feeling in you, can be helpful. For example, if you become enraged when your teenager stays in bed in the morning or when your child leaves their toys out, it's helpful to understand this pattern. Addressing these behaviours in the moment when you are experiencing a big emotion is unlikely to be productive. Find an alternative time to discuss these things with your child when you're feeling calm.
  5. Spending a lot of time together as a family can involve more time than usual watching TV and being on screens and devices. Be aware of how this can impact mood and energy - it may result in some short tempers. It’s important to try and get outside and encourage the whole family to get regular fresh air and enjoy spending time together. This can help to recharge and change the mood.

Our Brilliant Me & My Feelings online sessions help children age 5-7 learn to recognise, name and respond to a range of big feelings. Click here to find out more about these sessions including a range of others for children age 5-11.

This article was written by Louise Treherne, Director of Character Education at Role Models. Louise has a degree in Psychology, 12 years experience as a teacher and 5 years as a Senior Deputy Head at a London Prep school. She now works as a Professional Coach and Educational Consultant.